For weeks, perhaps even months now, the WWE Universe has been wondering one thing…
Who will Undertaker face as Wrestlemania 32?
As time goes by, that question becomes even more fervent, especially since all the likely options seem to be dwindling faster than Titus O’Neil’s WHC chances. (Though as I wrote last week, I still think there’s a way to salvage this from a storyline, which then means a PR, point of view.)
So on a whim this afternoon, I began jotting down a list of potential opponents for The Phenom. Some of these are popular options I’ve seen online; some are completely original. Well, technically I don’t think anything can count as original anymore, but some were created by me without getting help from the NAIborhood.
Therefore, I humbly present to you. . .
Kane - With only 45 days until Mania, the timeline for storytelling is slim, at best. With Kane, you have almost 20 years of history to use as fodder, so there doesn’t need to be much in the way of new tales told. In fact, all you need to do is have Kane turn on Ryback and Big Show at Fastlane this Sunday, joining the Wyatt Family. In the next week or two, Taker returns to save his brother, even if it means destroying him once and for all in the process.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Brock Lesnar - I know the smart money is on the aforementioned Wyatt Family taking out Lesnar during the main event of Fastlane, therefore leading to some version of Brock vs. Bray at Mania. I do get that, but that storyline seems to have fizzled VERY quickly post-Rumble, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if WWE was just going to drop it entirely.
In my mind, Lesnar and Taker still have unfinished business. I didn’t find the Cell match they had in October to be definitive enough to be the ending of their story - There needs to be some finality. A handshake, a nod of mutual respect, or perhaps in this instance, the ending of a career.
Taker comes out to screw Brock over again, Heyman says Taker doesn’t have anything else worth fighting for, Mark Callaway puts his career on the line. To paraphrase one Mr. Schiavone, that WILL put some butts in the seats.
Sting - Once again, we all firmly believe that Steve Borden’s in-ring career is done, and while that’s likely true, it’s also possible he has one more match left in him, especially if it’s “The Battle of the Icons”
Undertaker comes out on the RAW after Fastlane and begins to issue an open challenge to the roster but before he can finish, Sting’s music hits and from the rafters (or as close to the rafters as WWE allows him to get), Sting points his bat ominously at The Deadman.
You know, these stories are pretty easy to write when you have a blank canvas to work with.
I know what you’re saying, “But DC, that’s a bit of a swerve right there, since Sting is technically on the published WWE roster.” That’s true, friends, but this is WWE we’re talking about. You’ve got to expect a swerve.
Speaking of which…
John Cena - Now I’ve gone to great lengths to explain why I don’t believe this is happening, and I still hold firm to that. The injury was too severe, the timetable was too short. Cena can cryptically tweet about gambles all he wants, but I doubt he’s going to seriously risk his career just for a chance at Taker. Especially when he’s locked in to be Taker’s opponent at Wrestlemania 33, most likely.
However. . . In the effort of being an impartial broadcast journalist (just like Bobby Heenan), we should consider the possibility. Undertaker comes out to make his open challenge, John Cena answers the call, shocking the world. The Phenom vs. The Face that Runs the Place. It’s a great storyline that would, like many of these others, not need a lot of extra work done.
So, it COULD happen. . . But I still say it won’t.
I’ll give all the credit in the world to NAI’s ace producer Bill Neville for putting this idea in my head, because it’s a solid one. Thanks, Bill.
Randy Orton is, or at least, he was, the Legend Killer. Even with the Streak ended, Undertaker is THE legend of WWE. Once again, the storyline writes itself. Same Taker challenge, same surprise return, with the added wrinkle of Orton trying to avenge his loss from Wrestlemania 21.
Want to make it even more interesting? Orton puts his own career on the line. There’s been rumors that Randy is leaning towards hanging up his tights and punting boots in the near future, what better way to do so than by one more epic battle with The Undertaker? Can you think of anyone else who deserves to put the RKO-master to bed?
Well, yes, if I may answer my own question. I can, and that brings us to my favorite “swervy” option of them all.
Some of you may scoff at the very notion of this statement, but be real with me, NAIborhood - More than a few of you just fanboy / girl-ed out at this very notion. We’ve heard that Stardust is being put to bed, and if that’s the case, Cody Rhodes needs to return in a BIG, BAD way. This is what does it.
I’m reminded of Taker vs. Jeff Hardy, back during the ABA days. Even in a hard-fought loss, which it definitely would be, a fist-bump or quiet nod of accomplishment from Taker to Cody puts him right back on the path to stardom, which is where so many of us have long believed he should be.
Think about it. It could work!
Triple H - This is where the storytelling gets a little murky, folks, I admit it. There’s not a great way to put these longtime foes back in each other's’ crosshairs. Still, there’s history there, which makes life easier, and I’ve long thought that Undertaker’s last match should be winning the World Heavyweight Championship, and then retiring on top.
Quick aside to explain that logic - Yeah, sure, there’s a whole lot of power to be had if you’re the guy who retires Undertaker, but the only person who really deserved that honor was Bray Wyatt, and that ship has sailed. Who else is going to do it? Cena? (Doesn’t need it) Owens? (Doesn’t need it - No, seriously, he doesn’t) Finn-flipping Balor? (Needs it but doesn’t deserve it.) Nobody makes sense.
So don’t do it at all. Let him win the title one last time and then retire as champion - The Big Dog still running his yard.
Plus, doing this allows you to once again take the pressure off of Roman Reigns (and, to a lesser extent, Dean Ambrose), allowing him to build at a more natural pace.
So what happens to the title? Glad you asked. Taker beats Triple H and wins the belt. Maybe he retires the next night on RAW or maybe, in one final display of WrestleMagic brilliance, he pulls a Keyser Soze and disappears from the ring, leaving the belt behind.
We’re not going to have a tournament since we just had one a few months ago, but luckily, help is on the way. It’s the Elimination Chamber, which took place at the end of May 2015. We get a series of qualifying matches and a truly meaningful Chamber match once more, which crowns a new World Heavyweight Champion.
Wow. That went WAY longer than I expected. Time to move on.
Samoa Joe - I fully intended to write a column on how Samoa Joe can become the Ric Flair of NXT by winning the title during Wrestlemania weekend, and I do believe that to be the case. Perhaps later.
If that doesn’t happen, Joe would make an ideal Undertaker opponent. He’s got the size, he’s got the pedigree, he’s got the devil-may-care attitude that would allow an NXT superstar to step up and challenge the Deadman. It would work.
But like I said, he’s going to beat Balor and dominate NXT in a way we’ve not seen since Big E Langston. . . If not even more so. Still, nice idea.
I don’t recall quite what Corbin is booked to do during the Wrestlemania Takeover, and I’m glad for that. #SpoilerFree, folks. Regardless, it’s not the title match, so it could be more easily changed.
Again, this is a R-E-A-C-H, but like Joe, Corbin’s got the size and the attitude to be seen as someone who could feasibly stand toe-to-toe with Taker. It would also be a great way to introduce him to the WWE roster. Like with Cody, all he needs to do is look good in a loss, and his career is on the fast track to stardom.
I’ve begun to come around on Baron Corbin. No, I don’t think this option is feasible, but it’s something I at least considered, whereas even 2-3 months ago, I didn’t want Corbin in a wrestling ring. Marvel at the power of demanding someone go back to an independent promotion they were never part of in the first place.
This group goes beyond even reaches. These are the pie in the sky picks.
Bill Goldberg - The biggest Goldberg mark we all know, one Jason Moltov, is the first person I saw floating this idea around, though it’s a fairly common rumor. It would be The Battle of the Streaks, though a whole lot of work would need to be done on WWE’s part in order to educate the mainstream fans on who exactly Goldberg was and what his streak meant. Thankfully, they have WWE Network, so I imagine they could do that pretty quickly.
Truthfully, I’m just putting this here because I want to see and hear the tears of joy from Moltov if this ever happens.
How would it work, story wise? I’m not sure on all of the specifics, but it would help if you had Goldberg as a guest on a WWE Network show, to begin the education process and get the ball rolling. You know which one I’m talking about - The one hosted by the other bald guy with facial hair?
Stone Cold Steve Austin - This isn’t even pie in the sky, this is a chocolate souffle in the atmosphere type of pick. I don’t think Austin has any intention of wrestling again, nor (if I’m being honest) do I think this match would be any good even if it happened.
Still, I doubt Vince cares about that - He just wants the marquee matchup to sell tickets. And both of them are from Texas, which happens to be the home of Wrestlemania. . . And I suppose Taker and Austin never clashed at WWE’s Show of Shows. . . So, it’s at least remotely possible. . .
You use Austin’s podcast to set this up, too, having The Undertaker as the guest and having them both talk about the potential matchup. Both agree that it’s a ludicrous premise but there is some dissension between the two as to how it would end up - Each man claiming they’d be victorious. One thing leads to another, and away we go.
I know, I know, it’s borderline impossible. . . Just wait until you see my last idea.
With this idea, we’re beyond Earth’s orbit now - This is a Baked Alaska on the Coldest Side of Neptune idea. I mean, it is NEVER going to happen.
Let me trace my thought process for you - Undertaker has pretty much wrestled every big name in WWE / WCW history, save for some of the guys previously mentioned on this list. There is no other name in any other American wrestling promotion who could feasibly live up to the name value of a Taker Mania match.
. . . Except Kurt Angle, who truthfully didn’t pop into my head until I wrote the previous paragraph. . . That’s how far TNA has sunk in my memory. . . So let’s make this a baker’s dozen!
So I began thinking internationally, and of course my mind immediately went to Japan. Shinsuke was a possibility, but he has an NXT matchup, I believe, and whoever this is probably needs to be a one-time guy. I considered Jushin Liger for a quick minute, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
The Great Muta
While I lay no claim to having any puroresu expertise at all, what I can say is that Muta is, in my mind and I’m sure the minds of many others, the embodiment of WrestleMagic in Japan. The entrance, the face paint, the mysterious multiple-colored mists. He’d be the perfect choice to go up against Undertaker.
Now, Keiji Mutoh doesn’t work for New Japan - If my Wikipedia research is right he runs his own promotion called Wrestle-1. If he owns it, though, he gets to make the rules, so I’m not sure if anything would stop him from his first WWE appearance.
He’s also a guy who definitely belongs in any wrestling Hall of Fame, so that helps.
And with a Global Cruiserweight Series, you’re going to want some Japanese talents. If New Japan doesn’t provide them, Wrestle-1 could. In fact, on the Wrestle-1 roster right now are Kaz Hayashi, Sakamoto and Yoshihiro Tajiri, three talents who have WWF / WCW experience.
The more I think about this, and I feel that the more you do as well, the more this starts to make some sense.
Undertaker vs. Great Muta at Wrestlemania 32. That’s a 100,000 seat matchup right there.
What do YOU think? Be Heard
Did you notice the amazing thing that happened not too long ago?
As WWE made the formal announcement that the newest member of the WWE Hall of Fame class was Japanese star Tatsumi Fujinami, if you stood outside in just the right wind conditions, you could hear a great disturbance in the wrestling Force. . . As if thousands of voices cried out in total confusion. If you listen now, you might hear the echoes. . .
(Anyone recognize Nattie’s Daddy in a completely ridiculous 90’s gimmick? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?)
((Star Wars and Ferris Bueller references in the first minutes of the column - I’m so proud.))
This is a sign of how completely underwhelming this announcement was - I’m choosing pop culture references over a career retrospective.
The only reason I know who Tatsumi Fujinami is, outside of my aforementioned PWI subscription as a teen, is that recently I watched a Fujinami match on WWE Network. In the early 90’s, WCW had a working relationship with New Japan, so a month or so ago I watched Ric Flair vs. Fujinami as part of. . . A SuperBrawl, I believe.
Other than that, the major reason people might know about Fujinami is that he is credited for the creation of two fantastic moves - The Dragon Sleeper and the Dragon Suplex. Sadly, neither are used particularly frequently in WWE, but both are worth some research.
As Jason Moltov has said numerous times, this is not the strongest Hall of Fame class in recent memory. In fact, it seems to be running solely on the star power of its first inductee, Randy Savage. While I am all for providing some international pizzazz to the lineup, there are many other options for inclusion that would have provided more of a punch.
To wit. . .
Rather than the supposed inventor of the hold, why not induct the Dragon Sleeper’s most famous user, one who happened to wrestle for WWE, if only for a year. At one time, boys and girls, Ultimo Dragon held TEN titles at the same time.
Read that sentence again. On second thought, don’t, let this image speak volumes.
A fixture in Japan AND Mexico, Dragon was also one of the most talented and popular cruiserweights in WCW, and while he didn’t invent the Dragon Sleeper, he is the innovator of the move which bears his real name, the Asai moonsault. If you’re a fan of Sami Zayn’s moonsault where he kicks off the top rope to the floor, he’s using an adapted Asai. Yeah, Dragon was cool, someone who is absolutely worth searching for in the WWE Network archives, and totally worthy of being in the Hall of Fame.
While the popularity of ‘cruiserweight’ wrestling might have been mostly thanks to WCW (or ECW, depending on which version of history you subscribe to), the WWF was not without its light heavyweights. In fact, the winner of the Light Heavweight Championship tournament was none other than Mr. Michinoku, who in many ways was Vince McMahon’s answer to WCW’s Rey Mysterio Jr.
Taka held the LHC for almost a year, though that was the only gold he held in the WWF. Sadly, despite Michinoku’s excellent in-ring abilities (I remember being flabbergasted at how easily Taka seemed to just ‘step’ up onto the top rope from the ring, despite only being 5’8”), he is mainly known as a comedy act as part of the evil Kai En Tai stable. If you know what “Choppy Choppy” means in wrestling, you know that not all the “comedy” was quite effective.
Neither Taka or Ultimo Dragon had incredibly successful WWF/E runs, but they, to me anyway, deserve inclusion in the Hall of Fame before Fujinami.
Our next contender is someone who has never seen a single day in Stamford (the Connecticut home of WWE, for those unaware. Go Whalers. ), yet for most, he is a first ballot Hall of Famer.
I’m pretty sure I’m not wrong in saying that Muta is the pre-eminent Japanese wrestler in America, despite only having a relatively brief stay in the Western World. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of watching some of Muta’s NWA matches on WWE Network, and let’s just say he’s worthy of such high praise. The face paint, the mysterious entrance, the mist, and let’s not forget the moves - the power drive elbowdrop, handspring elbow and moonsault are all things that one would likely borrow if they could on a WWE 2K fantasy moveset.
If you’ve been following along on Twitter this week, you’ve seen it - Muta is arguably (now that Sting is but 9-10 short days away from making his debut) the greatest wrestler never to have had a WWF/E match. Just on reputation alone, this guy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Seriously, I know I told you to go watch Ultimo Dragon, but forget that for now. Get onto WWE Network THIS INSTANT and go watch a Great Muta match. He’s everything we like from our NXT talents; if Hideo Itami was just afraction as good as Muta was, he’d be the favorite to win the IC battle royal right now, instead of languishing at Full Sail.
Some might think I’m reaching here, but think about it. Tatsumi Fujinami has done practically NOTHING on American shores, and as much as one might hate to admit it, WWE is an American company through and through.
Tajiri, however? US Champion, 2 time Tag Champion, 3 time Cruiserweight and 1 time Light Heavyweight Champion. Oh, and then there’s the ECW tag and TV title as well. Plus he’s the guy behind the Tarantula, one of the coolest and most innovative moves of the last 15-20 years.
Can I make an argument that without the Tarantula, Dean Ambrose doesn’t do the rope flippy-do clothesline? Sure I could.
What I’m saying here folks is that if Fujinami is getting in, so should Tajiri. And Hakushi. So should the Orient Express, Kaz Hayashi, Jimmy Wang Yang AND Jamie Noble (he was a Japanese sympathizer back in the Yung Dragons.)
That’s not even counting other Japanese greats who have next to no mainstream American exposure. Kenta Kobashi. Koji Kanemoto. Mitshuharu F’ing Misawa. (Fun fact: Never seen more than 1-2 Misawa matches, but he remains one of my favorite wrestlers of all time. Google Tiger Driver ‘91 to see why.)
Can someone explain the logic between these decisions? Why have I had to write about Fujinami and the Bushwhackers? What in the world is happening to my Hall of Fame?
What do YOU think? Which Japanese wrestling stars should have been entered before Fujinami? Can you make any sense of this at all? Be Heard.